Weird and Wacky Chinese Icecreams: Ten of the Best

The days in Shanghai have suddenly turned scorching hot, and signs of summer are everywhere. Winter street-strolling pyjamas have been packed away in exchange for comfortable shortie pyjamas and frilled nightdresses, a very fetching look when matched with hair curlers. The trees are a dense bright green, and the tropical fruits - mangoes, lychees, mangosteens and pipas are filling the street fruit stalls.

At the little nickel and dime shops selling tobacco, liquor, shampoo and sundries, they have all wheeled chest freezers out of the back room and onto the footpath, filling them with brightly coloured frozen delights. It's been a tough task, but over the last two days I've sampled every Chinese ice treat you can buy and some of them I even came close to finishing. Acquired taste? See for yourself. Here's ten of the weirdest, wackiest, most innovative and tasty!

1. Ice-cream Stuffed Sticky Rice Balls

Chinese Name: Nuo Zi Zi 糯滋滋

English Translation: Sticky Rice Bursting with Flavour 

Price: 4.5 yuan (75 cents)

Taste: I wasn't sure what these were exactly, and when I pulled the plastic tray out of the packet I was disappointed to see something resembling frozen condensed milk instead of plump white balls like the picture. But if you flip one out then let it thaw for a minute or so, it's surprisingly good - soft, stretchy sticky rice, like a matcha ball, covering a vanilla icecream centre. It's certainly different to any icecream I've ever had.

Score: 5/10

2. Iced Hawthorn Popsicle

Chinese Name: Bing Gongchang Shanzha Shuang 冰工厂山楂爽

English Name: Ice Factory Invigorating Hawthorn. With 20% real fruit.

Price: 2 yuan (30 cents)

Taste: Yum! Terrific slightly sour apple flavour with small soft pieces of red hawthorn in the centre. Simple, as Chinese ice treats go, but that's not always a bad thing (see below).

Score: 6/10

3. Citrus Spiral

Chinese Name: Qi Cai Xuan 奇彩旋

English Name: Fresh Colourful Spiral

Price: 2 yuan (30 cents)

Taste: Supposedly lemon and orange flavoured, or lemon and lime flavoured, but there was zero hint of citrus in these icypoles and the spiral came apart after three licks, leaving you with sticky chunks of coloured sugar ice in your hand.

Score: 3/10

4. Green Mood

Chinese Name: Liu Si Xinqing 绿色心情

English Name: Green Coloured State of Mind

Price: 2 yuan (30 cents)

Taste: We had to get to the bad icecreams sooner or later, and this one's a ripper.  Made from green mung beans, it has an off-putting mushy pea colour and aroma, and a taste just like frozen powdered mashed potatoes with a hint of grass. 
These bean icecreams are enormously popular in summer, and although personally they turn my stomach I believe traditional Chinese medicine recommends them for reducing heat in the body. This job could possibly also be achieved with anything cold, like vanilla icecream, but if you work on the principle that if it tastes bad it must be good for you, then you'll love these.

Score: 1/10

5. Viennetta

Chinese Name: Qian Ceng Xue Bang 千层雪棒

English Name: Thousand-layered Snow Stick

Price: 6 yuan ($1)

Taste: Now here's something more familiar, as the large family-size Viennetta logs that occasionally made an appearance in my childhood, this single serve Viennetta import comes in its own plastic tray so if the weight of a thousand layers gets too heavy for your wrist you can rest it for a second before hefting it to your mouth again. 
In reality though, there is only one visible layer of ice-cream covered with the scantiest film of chocolate imaginable. A rip-off, but a massive hit here, perhaps because it's foreign.

Score: 4/10

6. Fragrant Corn

Chinese Name: Yu Mi Xiang 玉米香

English Name: Fragrant Corn

Price: 2 yuan (30 cents)

Taste: After the disaster of the bean icecream, I really expected to pull a frozen cob of corn out of this packet. To my very great surprise, this icecream is made of delicious vanilla icecream covered in a corn wafer shaped just like a cob of corn. I'm not entirely sure why an icecream shaped like a vegetable would be attractive, but there you go.

Score: 6/10

7. Bright Icecream Brick

Chinese Name: Guang Ming Bing Zhuan 光明冰砖

English Name: Bright Icecream Brick

Price: 3 yuan (50 cents)

Taste: A sentimental favourite for every Chinese person I know, the Bright Brand icecream company has been in business since 1915 and the flavour is pretty much unchanged. Soft, light vanilla icecream with a very smooth, creamy texture, you can buy them by the brick to take home to eat with a spoon. They're not so practical to eat straight from the box. 
My Chinese friend tells me she and her brother were only allowed one to share, a very rare treat, and the division of the brick was made down to the last millimetre using a ruler.

Score: 8/10

8. Bright Brand Icypoles

Chinese Name: Guangming Pai Bang Bing

English Name: Bright Brand Stick Ice

Price: 1 yuan (15 cents)

Taste: How can it be that the company making the best icecream in this list (Number 7, above) also makes the most abominable tasting ice confection in the world?
The slim white icypole on the left is innocuously sweet, lacking other flavour except for the unmistakable touch of salt. Ruins it really. 
But that icypole on the right, now, I'm just going to go right out and say what we're all thinking - it looks like frozen vomit, doesn't it? A nauseating mixture of solid and liquid bits frozen together in one swamp-coloured block. You can see from the bite taken that I brought myself to taste it, and involuntarily spat it all straight out again. Watch it, because these things are lurking in your local freezer cabinet.

Score: Is it possible to score less than zero? Actually, I'm going to give these half a mark on the basis of a very nostalgic tale told by by the same Chinese friend. When she was little, almost no-one had a refrigerator of their own so the ice-cream man would wheel around on his tricycle with a wooden box of these icypoles on the back. Children would know he was coming by the 'bang-bing' noise he made by striking the top of the wooden box with a stick, and they would come flocking. A Chinese version of Greensleeves, really.

9. Chocolate Happy Delicious

Chinese Name: Qiao Le Zi 巧乐滋

English Name: Chocolate Happy Delicious

Price: 4.5 yuan (75 cents)

Taste: Possibly the most complicated layered icecreams ever, these have a chocolate coating, an inner solid chocolate core studded with nuts or crispies, and pockets of berry-flavoured syrup in between. Rich and sweet, I was only meant to have one bite but somehow the whole thing disappeared....
The couple advertising the youthfulness of these icecreams are singer Luo Zhi Xiang and model Angela Baby (her real name).

Score: 7/10

10. Creamy Oats Delight

Chinese Name: Ruyan Fengqing 乳燕风情 

English Name: A Young Swallow's Amorous Feelings

Price: 3 yuan (50 cents)

Taste: When I bit into this creamy vanilla icecream a liquid centre tasting just like condensed milk welled up and out. A few more bites and it was running down my wrist, and when I took a bite of the toasted oats at the base of the icecream I tipped it sideways, spilling the syrupy centre down my dress. I quite liked the biscuity flavour and crunchy texture of the oats, but overall too messy for my liking.

As for the name, everyone I asked is clueless, and no, it doesn't come from a famous poem or story. Maybe young swallows love oats and condensed milk. 

Score: 5/10

Dishonourable Mention
11. Black Rice Cake

Chinese Name: Hei Mi Gao 黑米糕

English Name: Black Rice Cake

Price: 2 yuan (30 cents)

Taste: Whoever thought that black was a great colour for an icecream was way wrong. Looking nothing like the packet's graphic, I pulled a slightly lopsided skinny rectangular block out of the bag, the thin icy coating barely concealing the black centre, giving the icecream a pallid and unappetising grey colour. One bite, and my worst fears were confirmed - the gelatinous frozen sticky rice tasted even worse than it looked and was studded with pieces of something hideous. One bite wasn't enough to identify them but I certainly wasn't sticking around to find out what they were. In the bin, the whole thing.

Score: 0/10

OK, now it's your turn to spill the beans on your most (and least) favourite icecream flavours - is it red bean? is it jujube? has it got disconcerting solid bits in it?

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